There was a time, up until the mid-2000s; in fact, when watching F1 events also meant being bombarded with adverts for tobacco and alcohol. Sponsorship from cigarette companies, in particular, became so all-pervasive that in 2000, Williams F1 was the only team not to spot the logo of a tobacco company.
That has now completely changed, of course, with a blanket ban on all tobacco advertising in the sport. And alcohol is on the way out as well. Governments worldwide are more strictly regulating their promotion, and the combination of fast cars and drink promotion is increasingly seen as a no-no.
F1 is promoting its own ‘don’t drink and drive’ message, and Heineken, an F1 partner since 2016, only uses its deal, purportedly worth a quarter of a billion dollars, to promote its alcohol-free drinks. But even this might not be enough to allow F1 to retain the alcohol industry as a sponsor.
Even the spraying of champagne during award ceremonies is no longer universally accepted. Races held in Muslim countries have outlawed it on religious grounds, and the traditional bubbly is replaced by a fizzy, non-alcoholic rosewater drink called Waard.
So where does that leave Formula 1 when it comes to sponsorship? One answer is the multi-billion dollar gambling industry. When Bernie Ecclestone was in charge of F1, he rejected all offers from betting sites, but things have changed under the new ownership of Liberty Media.
Since 2018, a number of partnerships and sponsorship deals have been signed between F1 teams and the gambling industry. One of the most significant is the multi-year partnership deal between the McLaren Racing Team and the gambling giant, Entain. This was signed in 2021, just in time for the Monaco Grand Prix.
Entain, which is publicly listed on the London Stock Exchange, is one of the biggest sports-betting and gaming groups, both online and off, in the world. The UK-based group has offices worldwide and operates some of the best-known brands in sports betting. the Group also takes great pride in having Sporting brands, not to mention hidden gems like their online gaming site, GalaCasino amongst others, that reinforces their focus on traditional markets.
The partnership sees the team sporting Entain brand logos, while the sites themselves run special promotions for F1 events. But there is more to it than that, and the two parties are using their cooperation to promote social causes.
More specifically, their joint Returnship programme is using the fact that both F1 and online gambling are becoming increasingly popular among the young female demographic to promote a return to STEM sciences by women.
In conclusion, we can say that the gambling industry does play a big role in F1 sponsorship, and that is set to get bigger in the years to come. This is being met by disapproval in some quarters, but as the Entain-Mclaren partnership shows, there are opportunities for cooperation that go beyond mere advertising and allow both parties to show their socially-conscious side, which is not a bad thing at all!